As of 4 PM CDT yesterday, all free agents are now free to sign with new teams. This happens every season, but it has never before been as important to the Royals and their fans as it was yesterday.
As the clock struck four, the Royals matched the clock in question by rolling our four shiny free agents onto the open market in Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Jason Vargas. Three of those guys were centerpieces in a near decade-long successful plan to bring championship baseball. With that being true, this day has loomed in the back of the head of Royals fans for a long time.
We all knew that one day, the core would hit the free agent market and we have been discussing it for far longer than just 2017. Still, it is still jarring. The Royals are looking a massive rebuild in the face and there are already ZiPS out that project Kansas City as the worst team in baseball.
However, in the form of column inches, Royals fans have been given hope via two paragraphs of text. MLB.com columnist and former MLB general manager Jim Duquette wrote a column predicting the landing spot of the top 30 free agents on the free market. And he had not just one, but two of the Royals big three re-signing in Kansas City.
According to Duquette, Hosmer and Moustakas will both resume their baseball playing days in Kansas City next spring. We are, of course, all thrilled at this shrewd future-fact that gives little-to-no reasoning behind why it will become a fact. And if we know anything we, of course, know that free agent predictions are gospel.
All kidding aside, this is something we need to talk about, if only because we are preparing for a time in the dark ages and want to put off that reality for as long as humanly possible. Let’s focus on two questions here today.
Can the Royals afford both Hosmer and Moustakas?
To be short, yes, they can. Last season’s payroll sat at just over $140 million and as of right now, the Royals have just over $100 million committed towards 2018. Let’s say that both players get around $20 million like Duquette predicts. That puts the Royals close to that $140 million and that’s not including the possibility of a backloaded contract that Dayton Moore loves to give.
There are obvious logistical problems with this, however. For starters, the Royals would have three players making more than $20 million next season in Hosmer, Moustakas and Alex Gordon. And even if Hosmer and Moose didn’t make $20 million, it would be close. They also have Ian Kennedy lingering in the back corner of the room at $16 million. David Glass was hesitant to increase the payroll for 2017 and he likely won’t be running to the bank for 2018, with the Royals are coming off their first losing season since 2012.
And this scenario means that most of the added payroll for 2018 would be committed to just two players. If Glass doesn’t increase the payroll, the Royals will have some trouble filling out their roster. But, that wasn’t the question.
So...Should the Royals sign both Hosmer or Moustakas?
This is the much more relevant question and it’s a really tough one to answer. If the Royals can’t afford to put pieces around Hosmer and Moustakas--and assuming that they don’t bring back Cain--you would be hard pressed to convince me that the Royals will compete. Coming into the offseason, the thought among many was that the Royals should either sign all three or let them all walk and I think that is the right mindset, for one reason.
Lorenzo Cain is the best player of the three.
Hosmer and Moustakas have always been the heart and soul of the Royals but Cain was the engine that kept them running. He was the best player on the Royals World Series team and the Royals may just have made the playoffs again in 2016 had he not been injured. The Royals were 58-45 with Cain in the lineup while going 23-36 without Lorenzo. That’s roughly a 90 win pace. Now, that isn’t to say that the Royals would have *actually* made the playoffs had Lorenzo stayed healthy, but he was always the centerpiece.
The Royals are coming off of an 80-win season and have a depleted farm system. Would I love Hosmer and Moustakas to be Royals forever? Yes. Would I sacrifice the future to keep them in Kansas City? It sounds crazy, but I would consider it. One reason this core was special was because they showed us how much more baseball can mean in a culture like Kansas City. So yeah, I want Hosmer and Moustakas and Cain and Wade and Jarrod and Greg to all retire as Royals.
However, I also recognize that the Royals signing Hosmer and Moustakas could make the Royals just good enough to harm their future but not good enough to win. And as proven by Gordon, long-term contracts are a risky business, especially when they are in the 5-7 year range, as these contracts would be.
And we haven’t even talked about the prospect of moving Salvador Perez to first base, which is made more difficult by Hosmer being over there for seven years.
I love Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas and want them to be Royals forever. But from a baseball perspective, it doesn’t seem wise to go after them. Re-signing the pair wouldn’t make the Royals a playoff team and if that is true, what’s the point?